Three hopes for the Des Moines Register's new chief politics reporter Jason Noble

Congratulations are in order for Jason Noble, whom the Des Moines Register hired as chief political reporter after conducting a national search. Noble joined the Register in 2011, having previously covered the Missouri statehouse for the Kansas City Star. He wrote most of the Register’s articles about Michele Bachmann before the 2012 Iowa caucuses and reported on Jeb Bush’s Iowa campaign last year. Since March 2015, Noble has been on the "Reality Check" beat, checking the accuracy of political or policy statements for the Register and occasionally for Politifact. He also produced the 10-part Three Tickets podcast series about the history of the Iowa caucuses.

I’m excited to see how Noble approaches what he called "the best job in journalism." The Register has a massive agenda-setting role, not just for other Iowa media. The paper’s reporting on this year’s U.S. Senate race will be watched closely by the national press corps. As Noble puts his stamp on his new position, I hope he will:

Continue Reading...

Weekend open thread: University politics

Congratulations to all the Bleeding Heartland readers who just finished a year of academic work and especially to those who completed their undergraduate or graduate degrees this month. Good luck with whatever you have planned for the summer and beyond, and remember, many people switch gears several times during their careers. What I spend my time on now is different from the work I did during and immediately after grad school and far from any future I imagined as an undergraduate.

Pat Rynard recently interviewed eight student journalists about their experiences covering the Iowa caucuses. Well done to all, and good luck to the four who are graduating: Brent Griffiths, Madeline Meyer, Rebecca Morin, and Lissandra Villa.

Congratulations are also in order for everyone involved with the Iowa State Daily, which just won the "Best All-Around Daily Student Newspaper" award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld struck an odd note in his graduation message to faculty, staff, and students: "Although a university attempts to create a space for fruitful study for its faculty and students, it can’t escape reality. We have gone through a lot at the University of Iowa, particularly in the last year. And yet here we are, about to uphold a time-honored tradition."

Much of the turmoil and discontent at the University of Iowa this past year stemmed from Harreld’s hiring, against the wishes of most campus stakeholders. Unlike most of the people affected by his arrival, Harreld has been extremely well-compensated, receiving a substantially higher salary than the woman he replaced. He also presided over a generous contract extension for Athletics Director Gary Barta, despite troubling trends for women under Barta’s leadership and questionable decisions that have spawned multiple lawsuits and investigations of alleged gender discrimination. Meanwhile, the University of Iowa decided against complying with Johnson County’s latest minimum wage hike, a policy Harreld declined to explain in a public forum.

Seeing Harreld allude to what "we have gone through" at the University of Iowa (as if he were some passive bystander) reminded me of the president’s strange answer to the Daily Iowan’s recent questions about hate speech. As the Ditchwalk blog covered in more detail here, Harreld doesn’t seem to appreciate the difference between being insulted in public and being a target of hate speech.

Last week, some activists encouraged University of Iowa graduates not to shake Harreld’s hand while receiving their diplomas during the May 13 commencement ceremony. I understand the sentiment, but I would have encouraged students to deliver some concise verbal message while crossing the stage instead. Refusing a handshake makes a visible statement but also risks generating sympathy for Harreld.

Speaking of university leaders in the news, Iowa State University President Steven Leath’s approach to building relationships with lawmakers drew scrutiny recently. As Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on May 6, Leath provided tickets to sold-out ISU men’s basketball games to ten influential state legislators this year. Although the lawmakers paid face value for the tickets, the practice seems inconsistent with the spirit of Iowa’s gift law, since the courtside seats are normally available only to people who donate thousands of dollars to the university. Excerpts from Foley’s report and a recent Des Moines Register editorial on the subject are after the jump.

Simpson College political science Professor Kedron Bardwell recently flagged a disturbing interview Sam Clovis gave to Inside Higher Education. Clovis is on leave from his tenured position at Morningside College in Sioux City while he serves as a policy director for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Absurdly, Clovis suggested that even though "The liberal arts education is the absolute foundation to success in life," perhaps student loans should not be available for those planning to major in the humanities. Presidential candidates bashing non-STEM education, especially philosophy majors, has long been a pet peeve for Bardwell. Many Simpson graduates who majored in philosophy or political science have gone on to successful careers. Research has shown that "philosophy majors consistently outperform nearly all other majors on graduate entrance exams such as the GRE and LSAT."

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Continue Reading...

Adventures in sexist ledes

I don’t follow news about the University of Iowa’s football program closely, but I read Mark Emmert’s latest story for the Iowa City Press-Citizen because I was curious to see how he handled questions about the recent hire of head coach Kirk Ferentz’s son-in-law as recruiting director. When Tyler Barnes worked for the team in a different role in 2012, Ferentz "pushed to extend Barnes’ temporary position for a second year without disclosing to athletic director Gary Barta or others that Barnes was his future son-in-law," contrary to the university’s policy on nepotism, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on April 29.

Wanting to see how Ferentz explained bringing his son-in-law back to Iowa City for a well-paying job, I clicked through to today’s piece for the Press-Citizen. I didn’t have time to absorb the Captain Obvious headline "Kirk Ferentz convinced his son-in-law is great addition" before Emmert’s lede smacked me in the face.

Continue Reading...

Weekend open thread: Exposing abuse edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The Pulitzer Prizes announced this week recognized some powerful reporting on the misuse of power. The Associated Press won the public service award for "an investigation of severe labor abuses tied to the supply of seafood to American supermarkets and restaurants, reporting that freed 2,000 slaves, brought perpetrators to justice and inspired reforms." Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza, and Esther Htusan contributed to this incredible investigative work; the whole series is available here.

The Washington Post won the Pulitzer’s national reporting category for its "revelatory initiative in creating and using a national database to illustrate how often and why the police shoot to kill and who the victims are most likely to be." The database is available here; reporters who contributed to this work include Kimberly Kindy, Wesley Lowery, Keith L. Alexander, Kimbriell Kelly, Sandhya Somashekhar, Julie Tate, Amy Brittain, Marc Fisher, Scott Higham, Derek Hawkins, and Jennifer Jenkins. In one of the articles for this series, Kindy and Tate explored the common practice of police departments withholding video footage of fatal shootings, using the January 2015 death of Autumn Steele in Burlington, Iowa as the touchpoint.

The Pulitzer for explanatory reporting went to T. Christian Miller of ProPublica and Ken Armstrong of The Marshall Project "for a startling examination and exposé of law enforcement’s enduring failures to investigate reports of rape properly and to comprehend the traumatic effects on its victims." An Unbelievable Story of Rape was a stunning and depressing piece.

Speaking of stunning and depressing, previously unreported abuses of teenagers at the now-closed Midwest Academy boarding school came to light earlier this year. Several former students spoke to Ryan Foley of the Associated Press about being kept in isolation boxes for days or weeks at a time. (Isolation is particularly harmful to developing adolescent brains.) The Des Moines Register’s Lee Rood reported on approximately 80 law enforcement calls to the facility in Keokuk during the last three years the school was open. Abusive practices by staff went back more than a decade, though.

No state agency had ever inspected the Midwest Academy, prompting calls for the Iowa legislature to prevent future problems at unregulated schools. The Iowa Senate unanimously approved a bill setting out certification and inspection standards for boarding schools. House Republicans amended Senate File 2304 before approving it in the lower chamber, making "some exemptions for religious facilities." The Senate refused to concur in the House amendment, and on a mostly party-line vote, the House rejected the Senate version. The school oversight bill now goes to a conference committee. I hope lawmakers will work out a deal before adjourning, but this legislation is not a must-pass bill like the health and human services budget (currently hung up over disagreements on Medicaid oversight and Planned Parenthood funding).

Alleged verbal abuse by Iowa State University women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly was among the actions that inspired a discrimination lawsuit by former star player Nikki Moody. The AP’s Luke Meredith and Ryan Foley broke news about that lawsuit on April 18. After the jump I’ve enclosed excerpts from their report and some reaction, but I highly recommend reading the plaintiff’s jaw-dropping twelve-page court filing. Looking through some Cyclone fan board threads about the lawsuit, I was struck by two contradictory lines of argument from the coach’s defenders: Moody is lying, because this or that former player says Fen was always supportive and would never behave that way; or alternatively, Moody is lying, because Fen is tough on all his players, not just the black ones. Cheyenne Shepherd, an unheralded player for ISU during the 1990s, provided strong support for Moody in a guest column for the Des Moines Register about her experience as one of Fennelly’s "non-favorites." Retired ISU journalism professor Dick Haws discussed the "not-very-well-hidden secret" of how Fennelly berates and humiliates some of his players. Gavin Aronsen asked at Iowa Informer whether the lawsuit is "A Symptom of Broader Diversity Problems at ISU."

Since Thursday, I’ve been reading reflections on the life and work of Prince. I remembered his exceptional creativity, charisma, and talent as a songwriter (for many other artists as well as for himself), but I didn’t realize how highly regarded he was as a guitarist. His solo during this performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was mesmerizing. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top described Prince’s "sensational" guitar playing in an interview with the Washington Post: "Even today, I’m struggling to try and emulate that guitar introduction to ‘When Doves Cry.’ It’s just a testament to his extraordinary technique." The whole "Purple Rain" album brings back strong high school memories for me, especially "When Doves Cry." Prince’s biggest fan in the Iowa blogosphere was John Deeth, easily recognized at political events by his raspberry beret. Deeth reflected on what the music meant to him here.

Continue Reading...

The Des Moines Register is looking for a new chief politics reporter

The Des Moines Register announced in late March that Jennifer Jacobs was leaving the newspaper after twelve years, the last five as chief politics reporter. A national search is under way for her successor, who will handle "top-level political reporting, including breaking news, Iowa Poll results, analysis of the Iowa political scene and how it relates to the national conversation."

As a heavy consumer of Iowa political journalism, I look forward to seeing someone new take on this important job. I wish Jacobs all the best covering the presidential campaign for Bloomberg News, but it’s no secret I wasn’t a fan of how she approached her beat, sometimes seeming to favor certain candidates, recycling comments reported by others as clickbait, and even occasionally allowing newsmakers to review a full story draft before publication.

While campaigns and elections will remain the primary focus for the Register’s chief politics reporter, I hope Jacobs’ successor will also dig in to the work of Iowa’s elected officials at the state and federal level. Though the Register’s editors seem to like the "8 things to watch for" genre, my preference would be for less speculation about what might happen and more scoops on what politicians have done or said, especially actions that were never intended to reach a wide audience (as opposed to news leaked with the goal of maximizing exposure in Iowa’s leading newspaper).

I enclose below excerpts from the job listing Gannett posted on April 11. Another must-read for any journalist thinking about applying: the memo Gannett circulated in early 2015 on "Minimal job requirements of a self-directed reporter" at the Des Moines Register.

Continue Reading...

Two bizarre takes on the IA-Sen Democratic primary

Patty Judge’s decision to run for U.S. Senate was Iowa’s biggest political news last week. Taking their cue from Washington-based pols who recruited the former lieutenant governor, many national reporters who covered the story took for granted that Judge will be the Democratic challenger to six-term Senator Chuck Grassley, glossing over the fact that she will face serious competition in the June primary.

On the flip side, the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich and Howie Klein of the Down With Tyranny! blog recently made some odd assessments in their reviews of the Democratic race for Senate.

Continue Reading...
View More...